Personal detailsName: Daniel Day-Lewis
Born: 29 April 1957 (Age: 56)
Where: London, England
Height: 6' 1"
Awards: Won 2 Oscars, 3 BAFTAs and 1 Golden Globe
All about this star
Many actors are described as a "consummate professional". Tom Cruise, Harrison Ford, Clint Eastwood, Gene Hackman - these guys are utterly trustworthy, they never miss the mark, never miss a beat, they always deliver. But there's delivering and delivering. Some actors - and there have never been many - take that extra step, delve so far into the spirit of their characters, into the heart of the piece, that they can become a total pain to those around them. Brando was like that, Sean Penn still is. And then there's the modern-day ultimate - Daniel Day-Lewis, considered by many to be the most extreme, and consequently the finest actor of them all.
De Niro is famed for the weight he gained and lost for Raging Bull, but Day-Lewis matched that by buffing up into a he-man for Last Of The Mohicans, then losing all of it and more to play a cadaverous prisoner in In The Name Of The Father. And he went further. Who else would build a house to get into a role, as he did for The Crucible? Who else would spend months walking around New York swathed in 1870s clothing and reeking of cologne (The Age Of Innocence), and more months confined to a wheelchair (My Left Foot)? Who'd learn to speak Czech (The Unbearable Lightness Of Being) and become expert in butchery (Gang Of New York)? In terms of uncompromising preparation, in the ruthless priming of his imagination, Daniel Day-Lewis is unmatched.
He was born Daniel Michael Blake Day-Lewis on the 29th of April, 1957, into an illustrious family. His father, Cecil Day-Lewis was a writer and a poet of such distinction he'd serve as Poet Laureate between 1968 and his death in 1972. Also, writing as Nicholas Blake, he published some 20 detective novels, their hero, Nigel Strangeways being modelled on the poet WH Auden, one of Cecil's peers at Oxford. To celebrate his son's arrival, Cecil, 53 at the time, would write the poem The Newborn, featuring the lines "We time-worn folk renew/ Ourselves at your enchanted spring/ as though mankind's begun/ Again in you/ This is your birthday and our thanksgiving". Daniel's mother, Jill Balcon, was an actress who'd appeared in such hit movies as Saraband For Dead Lovers, alongside Stewart Granger and Joan Greenwood. Much of Jill's early work was done for Ealing Studios, then at the height of its powers. Not in the least bit co-incidentally, Jill's father was Michael Balcon, head of Ealing Studios from 1937 to 1959.
Daniel was born in the front room of 96, Campden Hill Road in Kensington, the family moving a few months later to 6, Croom's Hill, Greenwich. Here he grew up, along with his older sister, Lydia Tamasin, known as Tamasin, who'd later become a renowned documentary film-maker and a TV chef. As Cecil was consumed by his work and Jill, as she later admitted, was consumed by Cecil, the kids grew very close, playing together constantly and acting out little dramas. Tamasin can recall young Daniel leaping from the nursery window-sill, pretending to be Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space.
Another recollection was sadder. Before he eventually died of cancer, Cecil suffered a series of heart attacks, first being hospitalised when Daniel was just 8. Consequently, for the kids, death was never very far away, and this had a deep effect on the young boy. Years later, when Cecil's complete works were published, Daniel would write an appreciation for the Observer, mentioning his own "melancholic inclination" and "irrevocable sense of decay". Daniel would later recall that one of the few things he ever did with his father was sail a boat on a round pond in Hyde Park.
Nevertheless, his was not an unhappy childhood. He remembers very pleasant holidays in Ireland, his father's birthplace. At Connemara and Mayo, they attended horse races on the beaches at low tide, where tinkers had set up (illegal) betting boothes. One year Tamasin rode, another Daniel fell in love with a local girl, impressed by her noble steed and her black hair streaming in the wind.
Home life wasn't quite so simple or idyllic. Living in Greenwich, Daniel naturally found himself among some tough South London kids. Being Irish, Jewish AND posh, he was in for some serious stick. Very quickly, therefore, he mastered the local accent and mannerisms, and believes this to have been the first convincing role he played.
Having attended Invicta and Sherington elementary schools, September 1968 saw a major change for Daniel. He was a pretty wild kid and, in order to instil some discipline into the boy, his parents decided to send him to Sevenoaks, a boarding school in Kent. He hated it, everything about it. But it did introduce him to two great loves. First, there was woodwork, then acting, Daniel making his debut in Cry, The Beloved Country. Blacking up for his role as a little black boy, he could never clean it all off afterwards, each night messing up his bed-sheets. His dislike of Sevenoaks was shown in his joy at this mishap. He loved what he described as the "legal subversion".
His hatred only grew and, after two years, he was sent to join his sister at the more progressive Bedales in Petersfield. The summer before the move was thus a good one, and all the more so because he made his Silver Screen debut. John Schlesinger was in town, filming the controversial bisexual drama Sunday Bloody Sunday. Some young thugs were needed and, oddly but fortunately, Daniel's local fruit and veg seller was asked to round some up. Daniel's gang was up for it, and the nastiest were chosen to scratch some flash cars with broken glass. Daniel, his street-kid persona now finely honed, was among them, receiving '5 for his day's work.
The film was a big hit and a critical success. The intensity of the lead performances by Peter Finch and Glenda Jackson (both Oscar nominated) foreshadowed that of Daniel in his later career. Co-incidentally, his mother Jill would make a brief comeback in Jackson's TV series Elizabeth R the same year (1971) that Sunday Bloody Sunday was released.
But Daniel's wasn't just an act. He later said that at the time he was a sullen and morose boy, often in trouble for shoplifting, drinking, smoking and dallying with girls. This would continue at Bedales, though it also became apparent that he might be a high-achiever. Now he began to act seriously in school productions, at one point playing the dashing young prince Florizel in Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale. Sadly, it would be the only time his father saw him perform.
After a long illness, Cecil would die in May of 1972. Daniel, having raced back from Bedales, was holding his hand when he passed away. Hit hard, the boy threw himself into the activity he now loved best. Not acting, but woodwork.
The acting did continue, though, as did the bad behaviour. In 1973, suffering from migraines, Daniel was prescribed painkillers, drugs he enjoyed so much he upped the dose to a drastic degree, eventually beginning to hallucinate. Believing him to be a junkie, the authorities locked him in a room, with a nurse, for a spot of cold turkey, Daniel later claiming that it took one of his finest performances - as a sane man - to achieve release.
By 1974, things were going better, so much better that he even had his own fan-club. Appreciating both his physique and footballing expertise, the girls at Bedales now knew him as Daniel Day-Pinup. Despite the choice on offer, Daniel became ensconced with a girl in his year, Sarah Campbell, remaining with her for well over a decade.
Leaving Bedales in 1975, Daniel now had to make a hard career choice. Excelling onstage, he'd been taken on for a spell at the National Youth Theatre, but though he loved acting he found something "seedy" and "distasteful" about backstage life. Instead, he decided to become a cabinet-maker, applying for a 5 year apprenticeship. However, his lack of experience saw him turned down.
So, it was to be acting. Daniel would join the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, eventually performing at Bristol Old Vic itself.